Senator Murkowski Remarks on F-16 Relocation EIS Scoping Meetings

Brigadier General Malakowski and members of the EIS team, thank you for traveling to Fairbanks today to hear the views of Interior Alaska on the Air Force’s plan to warm base and downsize Eielson Air Force Base -  a plan that will decimate the economy of the base’s surrounding communities and break the Golden Hearts of a community that has gone all out to support the Air Force for decades and decades.  What the Air Force proposes to do to this community is nothing less than shameful in light of it track record of community support.

Sadly this is not the first time in recent years that Interior Alaska has had to come together in a wakeup call to remind the Air Force of all the good that they have here in Interior Alaska.

 In 2005, the Air Force asked the BRAC Commission to end active duty flying at Eielson Air Force Base. The Commission said no. Now once again the Air Force, albeit in more difficult financial times, asks the Alaska community to accept the same proposition. For the past two days in Palmer and then in Anchorage, Alaskans from the Governor’s Office, represented by General Katkus, all the way down to the man on the street, Alaskans of all stripes have turned out to say no to the Air Force proposal.

I am so proud that Alaskans have come together, putting aside regional differences, to tell you that the right place for the F-16s is right here. One of the most touching comments came from my friend Bill Popp, who heads the Anchorage Economic Development Council. It bears repeating so that the Interior community fully understands it is not alone.

Bill told the Air Force that his organization, which exists to promote the economic development of Anchorage, does not believe the Anchorage economy should benefit at the expense of sister communities of Fairbanks and  North Pole. The future of the state economy, in Bill’s words  relies on the health of the many regional economies… The Anchorage Economic Development Council believes this proposed transfer is a step backwards for the broader economy of Alaska.”

I would also like to speak to a point that General Malakowski has been making in his presentations this week. The General stated that the purpose of the proposed move is to advance the objectives that Congress set forth in the Budget Control Act. Indeed it sounds like a very patriotic objective. But General I need to take exception to the spin you are putting on this ball.

Congress did not ask that the Air Force downsize Eielson Air Force Base to meet national deficit reduction objectives. In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which it sits was highly critical of the way that the Defense Department in general and the Air Force in particular offered up force structure reductions – and not particularly well thought out ones at that – in a panicked effort to make its Fiscal Year 13 numbers work.

The committee said, and I quote, The Committee fully supports efforts to bring down the Nation's deficit but is concerned about the Department's approach to meet the targets set in the Budget Control Act. The Committee believes that instead of correcting years of poor fiscal discipline, the Department chose to make substantial reductions in force structure and take risk in meeting U.S. military commitments around the globe. Over the past several years, Congress has sustained the current force structure while finding tens of billions of dollars in annual savings by scrutinizing the budget request and removing funds from troubled programs, duplicative requests, and overstatement of certain funding requirements. “

The committee then went on to expressly prohibit the Air Force from implementing any of its force structure moves until a new Commission on the Structure of the Air Force reports to Congress in early 2014. In fact the committee also prohibited the Air Force from making use of 2013 funds to implement the force structure reductions. It is my position that the Air Force should not undertake preparation of this EIS until it has been cleared to do so by congressional appropriators. The Air Force, unfortunately, did not take my suggestion and instead used 2012 funds to pay for the people you see up on the dais and their supporting contractors. An action I didn’t appreciate.

So let’s get this straight, General Malakowski. The Air Force, not the Congress, owns the idea we are discussing today and many of us think it is a poor one. It is a poor one for many reasons that you have heard down south and will hear today. I would like to hit on a few of them. First, the Air Force claims that this move is necessary to save money. But the Air Force has not explained which other alternatives it has explored to save money and why instead it chooses to throw Eielson and the Interior Alaska economy under the bus first. In the whole scheme of the Air Force budget, the savings the Air Force claims it will take from Eielson is paltry. Yet the adverse impacts to the quality of life that airmen and civilian employees will face from this plan are huge. Those who relocate south will face a lack of affordable housing, crowded roads, crowded schools and a more costly quality of life. Not to mention that they and their families will be plucked out of their homes in mid-tour to achieve dubious goals.  Some will find it difficult to sell homes in Fairbanks and North Pole. The Air Force will need to buy these homes adding expense to the Eielson relocation proposal or take responsibility for pushing patriotic airmen into foreclosure. Not a pretty course of events.

And those whose jobs are eliminated will lose the opportunity to work and train in the unique Alaska environment. Let’s be clear – this proposal is not just a net job loser for the Interior. It is a net job loser for Alaska. If implemented, 75% of the active duty presence at Eielson will disappear. Half of those active duty jobs and a couple of hundred civilian jobs will simply disappear.

But even more important, the Air Force never undertook a strategic study to determine whether Eielson is the right place to downsize, given its considerable geographic advantages over other Air Force installations. It is also the only installation that sits at the gateway to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which I am told is the crown jewel of Air Force training ranges.

I have been promised that a study of Eielson’s appropriateness for other missions is forthcoming and I am disappointed that General Malakowski did not discuss this plan and how it relates to the work of the EIS. And I have introduced the America Needs Eielson Air Force Base Act of 2013 to ensure that this study is completed before anything moves off of the Eielson property. I want to commend General Katkus for suggesting that the right approach to Eielson is to bring more F-16s and more KC-135s to this base. There is a single squadron wing of F-16s in Germany that might do more for global security based here in Alaska than in Germany. I insist that this alternative be considered in the EIS.

In closing, I will be frank with all of you. I wish that we were not gathered here today because the Air Force itself took the initiative to shelve what we in this room believe is a poorly thought out plan that will impair Air Force effectiveness more than it saves money.  The Air Force has not exhibited this level of wisdom thus far so here we are.  And with that thought, let me thank everyone for coming out today.